Undocumented Students Face Increased Tensions Under Trump Administration

Plyler v. Doe  (1982) gave undocumented students the right to attend public school.

Plyler v. Doe (1982) gave undocumented students the right to attend public school.

By LISBETH JUELA TENEMAZA

Betsy DeVos, the United States Secretary of Education, sparked controversy in May by stating that schools could report undocumented students and their parents to I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). 

“That’s a school decision,” said DeVos. “It’s a local community decision.”

Devos’ statement may contradict the law.

U.S Representative Adriano Espaillat, a New Yorker of Dominican heritage, said in an interview that immigration law is federal, not local. And the Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe (1982) that undocumented immigrants have the right to go to public school. 

Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote in the decision, “I agree without hesitation that it is senseless for an enlightened society to deprive any child — including illegal aliens — of an elementary education... It would be folly — and wrong.” 

According to Pew Research, 3.9 million students have undocumented parents, and 725,000 are undocumented themselves. 

Principal Michael McDonnell said that all students, documented or undocumented, are safe at Midwood. Midwood has no information regarding immigration status nor does it ask for that status to be given, he said. 

Debbie Nathan, an investigative reporter on immigration for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), says behavioral issues can play a big role in undocumented students getting reported or deported. According to Nathan, having fights in school or being in possession of drugs may lead to police detainment. Once the police are involved, the matter is no longer in the hands of school deans. When an undocumented student gets admitted into the legal system, it makes it easier for I.C.E. to deport them. 

In Houston this February, a high school senior, Dennis Rivera-Sarmiento, fled an altercation after he was, in his words, attacked. Upon returning to seek help from school officials, he was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault. Now, his graduation and life hang in the balance as he awaits his asylum hearing.

The ACLU says that under FERPA, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, schools are not permitted to give out or require legal status.

One idea is a program or club dedicated to those who deal with the pressures and anxiety that come with being undocumented or having family members who are undocumented. 

A program like this could help students learn about immigration law and offer counseling if they feel overwhelmed or scared about their future in the United States. However, there could be risks.

Ms. Megan Thomas, a guidance counselor, said, “There should be a safe space for kids with documentation issues, but to disclose that information can be scary, and we must understand that.” 

“It’s a good idea if done right,” said Juliette Burke ’20. “If done wrong, then it would be a room full of targets, and you don’t want to do that.”

Nursat Jahan ’19 said, “I think students should feel safe no matter what. This is a place to learn. They’re not coming to school for anything else than to learn. They should at least get that.”